By Beth David, Editor
In what Judge Lawrence Moniz called an “erudite” argument, an attorney for the office of probation asked the court to clarify, in other words, to change, the sentence that Judge Moniz imposed on Michelle Carter.
Sarah Joss, Deputy Legal Counsel for the Mass. Probation Servicem said the judge’s order was confusing the way it was written and that the court did not have the authority to impose a “backwards” sentence.
What seemed to be at issue was the judge’s decision to stay part of the sentence.
Ms. Carter received a 2 1/2 year sentence, with 15 months to be served in the Bristol County House of Correction, and five years’ probation, after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the suicide death of Conrad Roy III.
Mr. Roy was found in his pickup truck at the Fairhaven Kmart on July 13, 2014, with a water pump in the truck with him. He died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Judge Moniz found Ms. Carter guilty of helping to create the toxic environment in which Mr. Roy died and of failing to call for help, due to the constant barrage of text messages and phone calls she sent encouraging him to kill himself. The defense claimed that her texts were protected speech and that Mr. Roy died from his own actions, not Ms. Carter’s.
The defense vowed to appeal, and Judge Moniz allowed a stay of the incarceration portion of the sentence until the appeals in Massachusetts are completed. If the case drags on past the end of the probationary period in August of 2022, then Ms. Carter would not serve her sentence. If the state appeals court upholds the guilty verdict, then she would have to serve the entire 15 months, if it rules before 2022. If she violates the conditions of her probation, she could be ordered to jail, but a court would make that determination.
The judge rejected the probation department’s argument after a long and convoluted debate that referred to several laws and rules. He said he would re-issue his order with only one small change that would make it clear that the probationary period is over on August 3, 2022.
If the probation department had succeeded, Ms. Carter’s entire sentence, including probation, would not have started until after the appeals process, and maybe not at all if she succeeded. She would, instead, be on “conditions of release” status, which is not as closely supervised as probation.
Neither the District Attorney’s office nor the defense supported the change.
Judge Moniz spoke in glowing terms of the probation department and probation officers, saying that in the thousands of cases he has seen in over 35 years, he could not think of one where the involvement of probation officers was “not a good thing.”
He said he had seen many cases where probation provided more structure than parents for some juveniles.
“I respect your very erudite argument,” Judge Moniz told Ms. Joss. “But things are going to stay the same.”
In what had promised to be the main show of the day, but ended up taking much less time than the probation matter, Judge Moniz ordered Dr. Peter Breggin not to use privileged information in his blogs and other writings about the case.
The controversial psychiatrist, who said Ms. Carter was involuntarily intoxicated by antidepressants when she coaxed Mr. Roy to his suicide, sent a letter through an attorney stating that he had complied with the court’s order not to use privileged information. His blogs, he said, relied solely on information that was discussed in court or was part of the court records, in regards to Mr. Roy.
Ms. Carter, he stated, had given permission for him to use her personal medical and psychiatric records to write about the case. He included a release form in records to the court.
As an expert witness in the case, Dr. Breggin was given records that were never made public and were impounded after the trial. Those records were pscyhiatric and medical records of both Mr. Roy and Ms. Carter.
Assistant District Attorney Maryclare Flynn asked the court to order Dr. Breggin to stop writing about Mr. Roy, saying the doctor was hired to testify about Ms. Carter and involuntary intoxication, so he should be limited to those topics, and should not be talking about Mr. Roy at all.
Ms. Flynn said it was more than just returning records, it was using the information in them in any way.
The Commonwealth also took issue with the possibility of Dr. Breggin making money from the case. In court records the DA’s office said Dr. Breggin had been a paid expert and should be prohibited from making any more money from the case. At the end of the blogs, there is a link to donate money.
Michelle Carter’s defense attorney, Joseph Cataldo, told the court that Dr. Breggin and his attorney had the “appropriate” response, that all records had been returned or destroyed, and that Dr. Breggin was aware of the “certain things” he could not speak or write about.
Mr. Cataldo also said that he was concerned that the prosecution was trying to put a “gag order” on Dr. Breggin.
“I guess I’m very concerned about the nature of what Dr. Breggin is doing,” said Judge Moniz, but agreed that it was a freedom of speech issue and Dr. Breggin had the right to write about the case, as long as he did not use impounded information.
“I think it’s undignified,” said Judge Moniz, adding he also felt it was “inconsistent” with Dr. Breggin’s own statements in court. “But that is not for me to determine.”
The judge said he would issue a new order that would bar all experts in the case from using privileged or impounded information, unless given permission by the parties. It appeared, though, that Dr. Breggin was the only expert who had that information, and Ms. Carter gave him written permission to use it.
Judge Moniz said any violation of the order could be considered contempt.
The blog host, “Mad in America,” also submitted a letter, confirming Dr. Breggin’s assertion that he was not making any money from the blog. The blog host is a non-profit that relies on reader contributions. Dr. Breggin is a “guest blogger.”
In a separate issue, Judge Moniz took Mr. Cataldo to task, saying it had come to his attention that Mr. Cataldo has written “stayed” in the margins of the order after it had been issued.
“That will be corrected,” said Judge Moniz, adding that Ms. Carter “will appear in this court on Thursday or Friday and new order will be issued.”
“That will not happen again, Mr. Cataldo.
Acccording to the clerk’s office, Ms. Carter will not appear before the judge, but will report directly to probation.
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